But some startups have barely come up with a plan. One group of founders knew from the beginning of the session that they were going to have to ditch their original idea, which was a tool to make real-time plans with friends. They used it as a way to get into the class but always intended to abandon it once they came up with something better. The trio—two engineers and a derivatives trader with degrees from Stanford and MIT—has been spending 14-hour days in front of a whiteboard, trying to brainstorm a promising concept. Time and again, they have proposed potential businesses to Graham; none of them worked out. But just before the first weekly dinner, they lit upon the idea of building a curated mailing list of high-demand jobs linked to college alumni networks. Graham gave them the go-ahead, and they are just getting under way with their new company, Insider Posts.
That kind of radical reinvention is standard practice here. Indeed, a sizable percentage of YC companies will, at some point, drastically rethink their business—a process known in the startup world as pivoting. During last winter’s session, an 18-year-old Israeli founder named Daniel Gross pulled the most notorious pivot in YC history. Two days before Demo Day, soon after his cofounder quit on him, the young engineer realized that his original business plan was fatally flawed. Gross concocted an entirely new idea, a site that would allow users to search all of their social networks at once. He quickly coded a demo and gave the pitch. Within a year, he had launched the product. Now his company, Greplin, has $4.8 million in funding.
Helen Belogolova and Christine Yen are trying to accomplish a similarly successful pivot. When the two MIT grads interviewed for Y Combinator, they outlined their vision for Citythings, a site to help people discover local events. Over the next few months, they realized it wasn’t working and dropped the idea. But as they researched, they discovered another potential business: Because venues for special events often sit unused even as party and conference planners spend days trying to find space, Belogolova and Yen decided to set up a system that connected planners with available spaces. Citythings would become Venuetastic. Pivot completed.